Front Page Ads

The Wall Street Journal announced yesterday that as early as September it will sell advertising in the bottom right-hand corner of the front page or in a strip ad along the bottom of the page of the print edition. The New York Times (which has a three-inch color ad across the bottom of the Business section of the paper I'm holding in my hand) commented that The Journal's "move is one more sign of the relentless financial pressures that have forced newspapers to consider new ways of raising money — by giving prominence to advertisers in areas of the paper once considered sacred."

To be sure this is not a unique move in that USA Today (a Gannett paper, and the largest daily) began selling front-page ads several years ago. The Wall Street Journal sells an ad on the front page of its Money & Investing section. Most importantly, there are several ads on the home page/front page of Dow Jones' Web site. The new CEO of Dow Jones said that in focus groups readers indicated that an ad on the front page was no big deal, and in our view it really isn't. No one is going to mistake an ad for an opinion piece or even a news article. If the two biggest newspapers in the U.S. can put ads on their front pages, you can expect many other major newspapers to follow because they're all looking for new revenue.

Interestingly, newspapers are placing ads on their front pages at the same time that Yellow Pages publishers are removing them. According to my colleagues Carlotta Mast and Charles Laughlin (Are YP Front Covers Once Again Becoming Ad-Free Zones? Oct. 27, 2005), only 17 of the 197 publishers that list their rates in the YPA's IRIS Rates and Data database sell front-cover advertising, including tip-ons. The driver for eliminating front-cover advertising is competition from other directories and the desire to protect and promote their own brands.

On the other hand, the issue for newspapers is the protection of their journalistic integrity. Today's editors were taught in journalism school that you have to separate the editorial side from the business side. They were not taught about return on investment, but this will be the determining issue for an advertiser.

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